How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time And Stay Sane
It would be beautiful if you could always just sit and learn, wouldn’t it be? Unfortunately, as you know, it doesn’t work this way. It seems as if the time is never right. And even when you sit down, you often don’t know where to start. Or what to start with.
If you find yourself in this description, why not give yourself a rule or two to make your life easier?
And the process of learning more automatic! Having rules will get you learning and keep you learning. You won’t be doomed anymore to ask yourself the ultimate question, “What do I do now?”.
What Is A Rule?
Just to be sure that we get the foundations right, I would like to quote definitions of both “a goal” and “a rule”. I know it sounds silly but I have had my fair share of situations when someone tried to convince me that they are “basically the same”
The Merriam-website dictionary gives the following definition of a rule:
- a statement that tells you what is or is not allowed in a particular game, situation, etc.
- a statement that tells you what is allowed or what will happen within a particular system (such as a language or science)
- a piece of advice about the best way to do something
Business dictionary defines it as:
An observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed timeframe
In essence, you can treat it as a logical loophole:
IF … then … and …
Of course, there can be some overlapping between these two. But that shouldn’t be a problem.
Great. But What Are The Rules In Practice?
A rule can be a number of things. Let’s go through some of the examples:
- It can be a specific writing technique which you want to use in your freelancing
IF I write then I use a free writing technique.
Such a rule is simple and actionable. It’s not perfectly measurable, but I would say that it is good enough.
You can track your writing output throughout a specific period of time. You can also ask your friends about the quality of your writing just to make sure that it doesn’t deteriorate.
- It can be a philosophy which guides whenever you find yourself in a specific emotional state
IF I’m afraid to take a bold step then I’ll think about death and potential regrets
Once again, the philosophy is simple and actionable. It can also be measured easily by comparing the number of projects which were successfully concluded when you used this rule.
Of course, you have to compare the number of successes within a given period of time with a number of successes within a comparable period of time when you didn’t use this rule.
- It can be a strategy which helps you to deal with your finances
IF I want to spend some money then I’ll make sure that it costs less than 15% of all my financial resources
This is a personal example. Whenever I make a financial decision, I double-check if I don’t spend more than 15% of the money I have. If the answer is positive, it simply means that I can’t afford it.
The rule is so deeply ingrained in my decision-making process, that very often I don’t even think about it! And I’m more than sure that these rules have saved me from dozens of stupid financial decisions.
Otherwise, I would be buying myself a vibrating rubber finger that massages your gums. Yep, this is a real thing.
What Rules Are The Best?
The best rules tend to meet the following three criteria. They are:
The acronym SAM can help you to memorize these qualities.
Why this “trinity”?
Firstly, you have to be sure that the rules you have chosen can be easily implemented into your learning process. Complicate them too much and after a couple of attempts you’ll become bitterly discouraged and will drop them.
Secondly, if you don’t measure in some way how these rules affect your learning, how will you know if they are worth anything?
How To Use Rules In Your Learning?
To use the rules effectively, you have to know what problems you have.
1) Find a specific problem
Take a moment to think about it.
Once you find it, you can come up with a specific rule to aid your learning.
2) Choose a rule
Let’s choose a quite common language learning problem, i.e. “I don’t know which resources to use”.
What kind of rules could you use to solve it?
My take on this would be to separate language learning competences. Then I would attribute a specific rule to each of the competences I care about.
a) IF I practise listening then I’ll use X radio station
b) IF I want to improve my vocabulary then I’ll write down the words from a dictionary and read something
c) IF I want to read something then I’ll read X newspaper
3) Track your results
As I have mentioned before, you have to track your (potential) progress to know whether the rule is good enough to keep it. After checking data, there is just one more step to take.
4) Decide whether to stick to the rule or replace it
Not much more to add here. This is self-explanatory 🙂
Personal Example – How I Juggle 8 Languages Using Rules
Believe me, if I didn’t have rules to guide my studying process, learning languages would be a living hell. I would throw myself from one language into another. Without any clue what I’m actually doing. Luckily, I have experimented a little bit and discovered what works for me.
As a disclaimer, I must add that I use this rule for 4 languages. The other ones I either use regularly or teach.
a) One week – learn Russian and French
b) Every second week – learn Czech and Spanish
Of course, this is a simplified version but it helps me to go through the weeks hassle-free.
How Will Rules Change Your Life?
As you can see, using rules in your learning and life can be surprisingly easy! And extremely beneficial. However, beware of one weird misconception – some say that having rules makes your life miserable and strips it of spontaneity.
Of course, that’s a lie. Using rules doesn’t mean that you will become a soulless robot eating nothing but bolts and screws for breakfast. Treat them like walking with a compass and map. You wouldn’t say that these are stupid, right?
Now…think about the rules which you might use in your (language) learning or life. How can they improve your life?
Informative and useful article!
What I like is that it’s actionable.
I would like to thank you in my target language: شكرا جزيلا
Thank you so much! I am glad you have enjoyed it!
Hi! How do you couple this approach with ANKI? Do you review words only those weeks when you study the language?
I review words regularly. By learning, I mean creating new flashcards, listening, etc.
I wouldn’t say that these rules might be used only in language learning, but I will try to apply them in various areas of life. Will let you know about the results 🙂
Sure, they are absolutely universal 🙂
Looking forward to it!
Excellent post offering plenty to think about. I struggle with motivation (language studies), but I believe a big part is not sticking to a study regime. A few rules might put that right.
Thank you for your comment Catherine! This is also something I have found time and time again to be true – without any rules every learning schedule falls apart.
One of the rules I use for studying is this:
Always work at the writing desk, or deliberately create a similar work station.
While it seems tempting to multi-task or to “use any moment and any place available,” I have found that _quality_ work can be done only at the writing desk.
The writing desk helps me be serious and focused about the study work I need to do.
You’re right Sophia! It’s great to have this one place which gets you in the “learning zone”. Great rule! Thank you! 🙂